Bjorn Lomborg Misreads Climate Change Economics in Washington Post Op-Ed

by Frank Ackerman

Bjorn Lomborg has seen the future of climate policy, and it doesn’t work. In his opinion, featured Friday in the Washington Post, a binding treaty to reduce carbon emissions – the goal that was pursued unsuccessfully at the Copenhagen conference in December – would have done more harm than good. Reducing emissions enough to stabilize the temperature would have astronomical costs, according to Lomborg, while the benefits would be small.

This is par for the course for Lomborg, a Danish political scientist who has gained international notoriety for his repeated attacks on environmental protection. His source for his climate policy skepticism is a very selective reading of economics, described grandly and inaccurately as what all economists think. For instance, do “all the major climate economic models” agree on a specific, extreme forecast of carbon taxes, as asserted by Lomborg? Not a chance; major models tend to disagree somewhat about such forecasts, and there is no consensus around anything like Lomborg’s claim. Do “most mainstream calculations” agree that global climate damages will be less than $1 trillion per year (a fraction of one percent of global output) by the end of the century, as he also alleges? Again, not even close.

The most widely discussed recent economic analysis of climate change, the Stern Review, reached conclusions opposite to Lomborg’s. Modest expenditures on emission reductions, according to Nicholas Stern, would prevent enormous climate damages. It is difficult to describe Stern, formerly the chief economist at the World Bank and a top official in the British Treasury Department, as outside the mainstream. For a list of dozens of peer-reviewed journal articles by American and European economists, supporting active climate policy measures, interested readers can consult RealClimateEconomics.org.

I wouldn’t presume to summarize the state of Danish political science without doing quite a bit of background reading. Perhaps Lomborg could show the same humility about climate economics, at least until he’s had time for more careful reading in the field.



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